There are a lot of great Thai restaurants in New York City, and much like Mets fans and people who knew The Ramones as children, many of them are in Queens. But no matter where you are, you can trust there’s a great option nearby. Here are our top 18 spots in the city, from Nolita to Woodside.
Ayada is our favorite Thai spot in Elmhurst. Considering the quality and variety of Thai food in this neighborhood, that’s a very big deal. Eat the drunken noodles and panang curry at Ayada, and it’ll make you question all the other drunken noodles and panang curry you’ve had elsewhere. Their raw shrimp salad is another one of our their dishes we think about constantly, and if you want a different kind of raw shellfish, they make an excellent som tum with chunks of shell-on blue crab mixed in. Bring a group, and try to eat in the slightly more charming dining room on the right.
In its dark and crowded space on Spring Street, Uncle Boons is the rare spot that exceeds the expectations of its hype. And when it’s your job to show non-New Yorkers around, this is the Thai spot to shepherd them to. Start with a round of frozen beers, then order the spicy banana blossom salad with crispy shallots and shredded chicken, and one of their unbelievably rich curries. Worrying about getting the perfect order here is sort of like worrying about a toddler tripping. It’s inevitable.
Khao Kang is counter service, cash-only spot in Elmhurst, and within a few minutes of walking through the door, you’ll be eating some of the best Thai food in the city. You’ll see whatever’s available in the rows of heated pans behind the counter, and for less than $10, you can get a selection of three entrees over a heap of rice. The fried garlic pork and ka pao moo are reliably delicious, but we tend to concentrate on the curries when we come here. Try the southern sour curry packed with fish and bamboo shoots, and get some tapioca pudding with bits of corn for dessert.
SriPraPhai is a Woodside classic, and, after all these years, it’s still where you should be sharing a large plate of soft-shell crab with a table of your very best friends (or a few people who are fine, it really doesn’t matter). It’s a great spot for a casual group meal with a large menu that doesn’t stick to one region of Thailand, and it’s an especially good spot for curries, seafood, and some fragrant pork leg that falls apart as soon as you touch it. It is, however, cash-only, so be sure to bring enough money for dinner and some takeout desserts from the fridge on your way out.
Just a few doors down from SriPraPhai, Thailand’s Center Point is much smaller and slightly more compelling food-wise. Their signature papaya salad, for example, is deep-fried and piled high with green beans and shrimp. Also, the tamarind fried rice comes unmixed to the table, leaving it up to the diner to get the right proportions of sweet tamarind and salt egg with each bite. It’s a little challenging, but entirely worth it, and if you’re just looking for a casual weeknight spot to eat with one or two other people, we highly suggest this place.
If Ugly Baby were a person, it would probably be the loudest one in any given room. And we mean that as a compliment. The food at Carroll Gardens spot tends to be bright and flavorful (like the mural-covered walls), with a good amount of heat on a lot of the dishes. So if you’re feeling disillusioned and need to be reminded why you get out of bed in the morning and bother going to restaurants, come here. Start with the young jackfruit salad, then split the kao tod nam klook (curried rice with pork skin and peanuts) or a big bowl of khao soi with someone.
We found ourselves mourning the inevitable end of Thai Farm Kitchen’s tom yum soup before we could even see the bottom of the bowl. How often does soup cause premature bereavement? Not very, which is why this one - first sour, then spicy, then sweet - deserves a special commemorative plaque. Sit underneath the rattan fish nets at this Windsor Terrace spot, and order food until you can’t see your table. Don’t miss the pad thai - theirs is loaded with tamarind-glazed shrimp and calamari that even your seafood-hesitant friends will value deeply.
Noods n’ Chill is tiny, and it has a silly name. But don’t let that deter you from grabbing some food at this counter-service spot in Williamsburg. It’s from the same people behind Look By Plant Love House , and it’s the best Thai restaurant in North Brooklyn. We especially enjoy the creamy khao soi and guay tiao tom yum with minced pork, fish balls, and crushed peanuts, and the minimalist papaya salad (with a good amount of heat) is also near-perfect. You might find it difficult to get a seat in the small space, but you can always just take your food to go, and eat in your apartment, on a bench, or leaning against a pole near a busy intersection. Whatever you choose, it’ll be worth it.
Wayla has perpetual birthday party energy. It’s dark and dungeon-like, your cocktail will contain at least one piece of fruit or flora, and there’s a beautiful backyard you could put on a postcard and send to someone abroad. The food here, like the crispy fried chunks of branzino, slightly sweet noodles spilling out of a lobster’s head, and noodle-wrapped meatballs will always make you feel just the right amount of deluxe. Come with a few friends, and dinner will essentially be a party with better catering than what normally happens at birthdays, weddings, and first communions.
It’s hard to settle on just one stew or curry from Taladwat. And you won’t have to thanks to the “pick and mix deal,” which gets you two entrees and rice for $22. Some of our favorite combinations involve turmeric curry chicken, caramelized prik khing pork belly, and sauteed greens. Not only does this Hell’s Kitchen spot serve excellent food, but it serves excellent food quickly. So you can be in and out in roughly half an hour, which means it’s perfect the next time you’re rushing to eat something before a show.
Before Taladwat, there was Pure Thai Cookhouse. The two restaurants aren’t actually that similar (Pure Thai specializes in noodles), but they’re both in Hell’s Kitchen, and they share some of the same owners. This place is one long room with wood-paneled walls, and the only seating options are little metal stools. It’s an ideal option for a casual meal in the general vicinity of Midtown - such a good option, in fact, that there’s pretty much always a wait. But if you have to wait 30 minutes to eat some curry puffs and a bowl of springy noodles topped with pork and crab, you should know that it’s very much worth it.
If you leave Somtum Der without ordering one of their eight som tum salads, we’re sorry but you have to go back and try again. It doesn’t matter how full you are, don’t argue with us - we want what’s best for you. What’s that? What’s our favorite one? The one with pungent fermented fish sauce and crab. Pair that with a spicy mountain of larb ped and sticky rice, and the grilled coconut pork skewers, and you’ll want to come to this casual East Village spot every time you hear the word “papaya.”
Bangklyn isn’t just a restaurant - it’s also a coffee shop and vintage clothing store. The kitchen can fit just two people, which only makes the simple, home-style food more impressive. So while you sit and enjoy Southern Thai fried chicken or crab coconut milk noodles, you can also admire stacks of Ralph Lauren pants from the ’80s and flannel shirts that may be just slightly less valuable than your 401k savings.
Much like a healthy petunia or Major League Baseball, Look By Plant Love House flourishes in the summer. That’s when you can sit outside in their twinkly-lit Prospect Heights backyard and wolf down creamy khao soi, spicy boat noodles, and a papaya salad the size of a manhole that comes with Esan sausage and chicken wings. It’s operated by the same people behind Noods n’ Chill in Williamsburg, and the menu is pretty similar (with the exception of that massive papaya salad).
Kitchen 79 makes food from all six regions of Thailand, but the best dishes are from the South. There’s the intensely-seasoned whole red snapper that’s steamed with a ton of lime and chilis. It comes surrounded by hot peppers and a sweet lime sauce, and easily steals the spotlight on any table. We also love the Kua Kling Moo that tastes like lemongrass, fire, and the good kind of pain. Aside from the great food, this Jackson Heights spot works well for a fun group dinner, since they play top 40 and serve $5 lychee mimosas.
If you spend time in Bushwick or Bed-Stuy, you should memorize the sounds “Klom” and “Klorm” because this is the best Thai restaurant in the area. Klom Klorm serves staples from a few regions, like herby northern Thai sausage and a papaya salad that tastes like it’s happily married to a container of fish sauce. Klom Klorm is great for a casual date with someone you don’t know too well. The food is consistent, most of the entree costs well under $20, and there’s a brick wall adorned with colorful plates to keep you two talking when you get bored of walking each other through a normal day at your jobs.
Our favorite dish at Lamoon in Elmhurst is called leng soup. It’s a large bowl of thin broth with several large pork bones stacked in the middle, and the whole thing comes heavily dusted with diced chilies and scallions. It’s spicy and sour, and the juicy meat falls right off the bones. We think about this dish sometimes when we’re eating less-good soup, but there’s also plenty of other stuff that you should try at this Northern Thai spot, including Thai sausage, khao soi, and a plate of pad see ew with tapioca pearls mixed in. This place is also BYOB, so be sure to take advantage.
If we were 100% certain it wouldn’t get into our eyes, ears, and nose, we’d dive into a pool of the coconut crab curry from Fish Cheeks in Noho. It’s a little sweet with a good amount of spice and big chunks of crab hidden on the bottom, and we often eat it straight without any of the rice on the side. The fragrant po tak soup is another great thing to share with one or two people (the portions here are mostly family-size), and we love the fact that every table gets free shrimp chips with dense, fishy chili jam. The only thing we don’t like about Fish Cheeks is how tough it is to make a reservation. The bright, noisy space is always packed, even on a Monday - but if you don’t mind drinking nearby for an hour or so, just put your name in for a few seats at the bar.